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Different sectors of society typically value, need and demand different bundles of ecosystem services. At the same time, important trade-offs exist between the production of different services, and it is not possible to increase the resilience of all ecosystem services simultaneously. Decisions about which services to sustain in a particular social–ecological system therefore require trade-offs that are inherently political. Politics can be described as ‘the authoritative allocation of values for a society’ (Easton 1965). To further complicate matters, the desired mix of services will evolve with changing societal values and preferences, and the resilience of ecosystem services is only one among many desired outcomes (e.g. equality, human rights, democracy) of social–ecological systems. Resolving these trade-offs requires resolution of collective-action dilemmas and intergroup conflicts, a process that comes replete with power inequalities, asymmetric resource bases and unequal outcomes. This chapter discusses some of the asymmetries and power dynamics that underlie decisions of which ecosystem services should form the focus for resilience-building initiatives; the remainder of the book assumes these choices have been made and focuses on how the resilience of some agreed-on mix of ecosystem services may be enhanced. Here, we focus specifically on the social consequences of trade-offs between ecosystem services; asymmetries in the distribution of ecosystem services; and we briefly discuss the broad literature of how these may be addressed through wider deliberative processes. We find that issues associated with the allocation of ecosystem services are poorly integrated into the resilience literature, and suggest that an improved understanding of allocation trade-offs could result from more applied research on use of ecosystem services that integrates perspectives from the social sciences about how and why people make and respond to decisions concerning ecosystem services.
Prompted by escalating rates of environmental change, resilience thinking is one emerging applied field that explicitly seeks to inform managers and policy-makers in the governance of social–ecological systems (SES) and the ecosystem services they produce (Berkes et al. 2000; Walker and Salt 2006).
This book synthesizes and reviews the evidence in support of seven generic principles for enhancing the resilience of ecosystem services, i.e. the capacity of a social–ecological system to sustain a desired set of ecosystem services in the face of disturbance and ongoing change. Although some principles are better established than others, there is evidence that all are important. At the same time, none of the principles are universally beneficial, and all require a nuanced understanding of how, when and where they apply. Furthermore, the principles are often highly interdependent. Context matters and promoting the enhanced resilience of ecosystem services depends as much on how the individual principles are applied as on achieving an appropriate combination of principles. The nature of social–ecological systems as interdependent complex adaptive systems calls for governance and management that enhances aspects of a social–ecological system that help shape trajectories in desirable directions and enable adaptive responses to unexpected events. The principles are thus not final outcomes in themselves but rather features relevant for building resilience that should be considered when designing governance structures and management policies. More research is needed to better understand the individual principles, how they interact and how they can be operationalized and applied in different contexts.
The degree to which humans are shaping ecosystems at local to global scales poses significant challenges in providing for the wellbeing of the planet's growing number of people (MA 2005; Martin 2007). One of the critical issues is ensuring the adequate and reliable provision of essential ecosystem services, such as freshwater, food and climate regulation, to meet the needs of society in a world that is expected to continue changing rapidly over the coming century. Social–ecological resilience is one growing body of research that seeks to provide insights and understanding to help address this challenge, premised on the assumption that the functioning of ecosystems and the provision of ecosystem services cannot be understood without accounting for the actions of people who live in these systems.
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